BJP opens its mouth on Lokpal (just); supports Anna on appointment & dismissal

Despite keeping most of its opinion and suggestions private, the main opposition party, the BJP, seems to be on the side of popular anti-corruption campaigners on the only topic on which it has spoken so far.

“It has kept the appointment process under its control.. It has kept the complete majority of the appointment panel,” BJP Senior leader Arun Jaitley pointed out, in what is perhaps the only point-specific reaction to come out of the party since the talks between campaigners and the government entered stalemate.

The BJP’s and other political parties’ opinion on major sticking points about the characteristics and selection of India’s new anti-corruption ombudsman, the Lokpal, is seen as the final “casting vote” on the fight between the Civil Society groups and Government.

Talks between the activists and the Government over the Lokpal bill broke down after the government refused to include both its lower level officials — who interact with the ordinary people — as well as the very top, including the Prime Minister. The government also wants everyone who wants to file a complaint against any corrupt official to come to Delhi to do so.

In an effort to break the deadlock, the Government invited opposition and allied parties to weigh in with their comments in a meeting yesterday. However, except for the Left parties, almost none of them made their opinion on the specific issues clear, preferring instead to give the government a earful for not including them at the initial stages.

The reluctance of the political parties, particularly the BJP, to come out with a clear stand on the issue is seen as a sign, both by the government and other observers, that BJP holds opinions that, if revealed, may make it unpopular among the agitating public.

Jaitley’s comments, therefore, have come as a surprise, not only because they were made before the Parliament discussion has started, but also because they seemed to support the cause of Anna and other agitators. Jaitley, however, did not say anything about including all government officials within the ambit of the Lokpal, instead of restricting it to the top bureaucracy as the Government wants.

He, however, also opposed the government’s proposal on the mechanism to remove a corrupt Lokpal. Echoing what the Anna team has been saying, Jaitley said it was unacceptable that an ordinary citizen who finds the Lokpal to be inefficient or corrupt cannot approach the Supreme Court seeking its dismissal.

According to the Government’s version of the bill, only the Government can petition the Supreme Court against Lokpal — widely seen as a feature that would make the Lokpal obligated to the government for his survival in office.

“No person aggrieved against a biased Lokpal can move the Supreme Court.. If the government finds a Lokpal inconvenient, it can remove him. The power of suspending him is with the Government,” Jaitley pointed out. He also criticized the proposed composition of the Lokpal body as well, adding that the qualification for Lokpal has been kept vague.

The Left parties, meanwhile, opposed the Government’s suggestion that the Prime Minister should be kept out of the investigative powers of the new anti-corruption body as well.